Targeting Vital Concerns

June 2002
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

Information technology’s role in homeland security and the defense of freedom cannot be overestimated. It is going to take an internationally coordinated effort to defeat terrorism, and information technology will be the key enabler that ties our efforts together. Indeed, one of the most oft-cited needs is for a network that allows local, state and federal government to work together in a major crisis or disaster—a challenge that encompasses networking, interoperability, security, collaborative tools and knowledge management.

The AFCEA International Technical Committee is on the mark with the theme for this year’s TechNet International show in Washington, D.C.: “Homeland Security: Terrorism and Technology—The Critical Role of IT.” The clear threat facing the United States and the Free World has emphasized the need for information technology—IT—to be a major factor in the strategy for both national and international security.

And, as AFCEA members know so well, we are all in the fight. For many years, our association’s activities—such as annual expositions and symposia, chapter events and SIGNAL Magazine—have been at the forefront of showcasing the information technologies that now are playing a major role in operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. As with many military technologies, some of these systems were developed more with contingencies in mind rather than day-to-day operations. Now, the United States and its allies are waging a war against terrorism that ranges from the far reaches of Afghanistan and Southeast Asia to the home countries in North America and Europe. And, the information technologies that have been AFCEA’s bailiwick are proving their worth.

Finding itself at the heart of the conflict’s key enabler is not an automatic qualifier for an effective exposition, however. AFCEA approached the planning for TechNet International with the gravity of a complex military operation. Putting together a program for a show as elaborate as TechNet is no overnight exercise. Considerable planning and discussion always go into this effort—and this is just in the concept stage. With this year’s theme and its accompanying sense of urgency, the association left little to chance and went right to the source—U.S. military leadership.

Earlier this year, AFCEA polled virtually every three-star and four-star commander in the U.S. Defense Department to determine which subject areas they would like to see at the show. The focus was on what the “inside-the-beltway” government officials need to see from an “outside-the-beltway” perspective.

In response to this polling, the association received more than 160 requirements. TechNet program officials organized these requirements into eight categories: wireless networking/technology/security; information security/assurance; interoperability, including coalition; multilevel security data sharing; collaboration/collaborative tools; bandwidth challenges; network security training and credentials; and space systems and operations.

In turn, this list was forwarded to Gen. Richard B. Myers, USAF, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr., USA, the Joint Staff’s J-6. Both leaders could see that their own requirements lists matched those of their commanders from around the globe. AFCEA’s sponsors also received this list to encourage them to display technology in one or more of these eight areas.

The aim of this effort is to match the expectations of the audience who will attend the June event. This way, industry could greet exhibit attendees with solutions to their challenges and requirements. And, attendees could count on being able to find these specific solutions, as well as to discover new capabilities related to their areas of concern.

This two-way communication did not stop at the technology discipline level, however. AFCEA also asked the senior service communicators if they thought TechNet should lessen its concentration on technology exhibition. Each one responded that there continued to be a requirement for an AFCEA technology exposition inside the beltway. These uniform IT professionals also have been encouraged to urge their people to attend the show and take advantage of these displays of technology.

AFCEA’s history is replete with examples of how business-to-military and business-to-business contacts have led to mutually beneficial decisions by both parties. For the commercial sector, it may have taken the form of focusing on a new area of technology research or on other business or military requirements. For the military, it may have been the discoveries of emerging technologies and architectures that opened the door to new capabilities promising to revolutionize deterrence and warfighting.

Now, many of those success stories are fueling our efforts in the war on terrorism. However, we are seeing only the beginning of what is likely to be a long and arduous conflict. Much work remains to be done, both by participants at home and abroad and by industry in providing vital information technologies that ensure that the Free World stays one step ahead of its worldwide terrorist adversaries. That is why this year’s TechNet International holds so high a degree of significance—and why AFCEA continues to bring its full energies to bear on making the show a success.